Last week I wrote about how to expand time by creating timeless experiences. This week I wanted to explore how time can be slowed down or sped up, or simply feel just right, intentionally. It turns out science can tell us a lot about our perception of time and why a year feels so long to an 8-year-old but flies by for a 48-year-old. 

Slow time with new experiences:

I am on holiday as I write this post and, based on science, if I use my holiday to have new experiences--go to a new place, stay in a new hotel, go hiking on a new trail, learn a new sport (kite surfing), meet new people, join a tour to see new sights, go to new restaurants--I will slow down time. 

This is called the "holiday paradox," dubbed as such by psychologist and BBC columnist Claudia Hammond. Our brains register more memories when we're experiencing new things, which in retrospect feels like it all happened over a longer period of time. This is why time seems to fly as we get older too.

If you're in the cruise ship business, like Royal Caribbean, you might want to mix-up and shuffle experiences, to expand the feeling of cruise goers' vacation time. 

Slow time by living dangerously.

David Eagleman who leads the Eagleman Lab says, "Time is this rubbery thing. It stretches out when you really turn your brain resources on, and when you say, 'Oh, I got this, everything is as expected,' it shrinks up." Eagleman who leads research on our perception of time, is interested in how a near death experience slows down time. Our amygdala, which registers emotion and memories in our brain, starts registering everything when we feel threatened.

In this context, people who choose to put their lives in danger to help others--police, firemen, the military--might experience time slowing down more often than everyone else. For others, this might explain the draw of extreme sports like kite-surfing, parachuting, free-style climbing. All your senses are alert, you're focused 100% and time stretches so that you feel like you've lived much more in the same amount of time. 

For companies that design extreme experiences, like roller-coaster rides, creating experiences that stretch time can lead to designing new gaming experiences that, make us aware of how our experience of time changes in these moments.

Experience the present by being in the flow.

Being a scaredy cat, I am not going to start kite surfing anytime soon, even on vacation. What I will do is find opportunities to get into the flow. 

The flow state, discovered by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is being in the zone, when our skills and the challenge at hand match so well that we lose our sense of time. I find myself in a state of flow when I am sketching ideas, where the problem I am trying to solve is within my abilities and sketching helps me unearth my ideas. For others, flow might occur while playing an instrument, doing team sports, horse-back riding or solving a math problem. 

For organizations, creating flow by matching skills to challenges provides happier people at work, better use of resources and a better outcome. For more on this, Whitney Johnson's book, Build An A Team, is a great read on how to create the right "S Curve" between skills and challenges for members of your team.

Speed up time by creating routines:

There are times when you want to speed up time. For anything that involves waiting, like check-out or check-in lines, or chores like cleaning or tidying up, routines and habits come in handy. Since they're familiar experiences, our brain doesn't register them as new memories. Less new memories, shorter our perception of time. 

If routine speeds up time, it makes sense for companies like Amazon to design user experiences that quickly become routine, like Amazon's one-click buying option. In the analog world, Mari Kondo, author of the bestselling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, is wildly successful because she created simple routines for tidying up and speeding us up through an often difficult chore.

Thank you to our intern Meltem Parlak for inspiring me to think about the science of time. A great way for me to get into the flow on vacation!

Published on: Jul 31, 2018